Our Manifesto

‘We simply have not kept in touch with poetry’ – Paul Muldoon

It is difficult to describe our approach to literature in a single word. We amalgamate modernism and Romanticism, the old and the new, the bitterly divided and chaotic poetic tradition of the last century, and seek to reconnect people with poetry, and vice versa. There is a very simple reason for Muldoon’s observation. In recent years, the artistic and critical establishment, in a clumsy and in many ways hostile attempt to be unique and broadly cultivated in a time of crisis for the individual, has seen to it that we are locked in a state of increasingly dubious faux-canonisation, which has resulted in a widespread public disdain for poetry. Poetry (and indeed literature at large), now more than ever, finds itself at war with a glutted and moralistically perverse digital culture that has fetishised identity politics. Poetry’s ability to connect on a fundamental and profound level with all humans has been abused to the point where its spectrum of effect has been narrowed, and its audience ignored. Our essential manifesto revolves around three core principles:

  1. Poetry is a play performed on the stage of the tongue

  2. Politics and commerce are the enemies of beauty

  3. All poetry is plagiarism

Simply put, these principles conflict with what we believe are the greatest transgressions of contemporary populist poetry. The medium has been hijacked, trivialised, even infantilised. Children are being taught to think of poetry as a single-purpose tool, a thing used to express a limited set of emotions and themes – through a Haiku, a limerick, or perhaps a sonnet. Confined, claustrophobic ideas of what it means to write poetry. They do not realise that poetry can be savage, something brutal, something far removed from the writers they are forced to study in school. There does not yet exist an appropriate vocabulary to express this rupture in faith between contemporary youth and poetry. By vetting our content using the three principles below, we strive to restore faith in the aesthetic solution. To advocate that simplicity is not always the enemy of high thought, or profundity, and that difficulty, enlightenment, is something to aspire to, not to dismiss. We stand for eclecticism and not elitism, beauty rather than brutality.

  1. Poetry is a play performed on the stage of the tongue

Good poetry is able to play on the sounds it produces. It is essentially a medium of private performance, meant to be read aloud rather than confined to the strokes of a pen on paper. Even in whispers and in quiet moments, poetry is the interaction between words and the air to which it gives meaning.

  1. Politics and commerce are the enemies of beauty

Art, and by obvious delineation poetry, possesses the ability to engage with and often to influence political discourse, particularly on a social and a personal level. This is to be encouraged when the need arises, and in the past literature has been used as a powerful weapon to combat political injustices, or to translate the feelings that arise from political events. However, poetry has become a soapbox for a monotonous drone of strife and struggle. Glutted by often irrelevant and condescending lampoonery, scores of poets have seen to it that a great proportion of the public are now alienated from poetry. Taking the work of the modernists to a new and unwelcome extreme, the literary elite have constructed a hostile and intellectually exclusive environment strewn with irreverent disregard for the aesthetic. Similarly, the commercialisation of art over the last century has heavily impacted people’s faith in beauty and art. The desire to sell has overtaken the desire to please, or to move. Serialised novels, screen adaptations, incessant sequels, exhausted ideas – all have become the norm. We are seeking to return to a state of mind where the only goal is to feel human.

  1. All poetry is plagiarism

And, more precisely, all stories are plagiarism. ‘All stories rightly heard are one’ – said McCarthy in The Crossing. All words are borrowed, all metaphors are born from the tangible, the actual facts of a person’s life. To translate these things into poetry is to exact their essence onto the page, and plagiarise their likeness in words. Allusion, pastiche, learned references, homages — these things are ornaments in this practice.

We live in an age where everything is immediate – and, as a result, quite often premature, unformed, aggressive. Humanism is failing, and cultural assimilations are implicitly strained every day by the muddled and unintelligible outcry of the press. Calm, considered and enlightened discussions are becoming increasingly difficult in the wake of widespread hyper-politically sensitive hysteria. The shift from post-modernism to commercialism has been one mandated by the digital revolution. The undeniably explosive involvement of computers and technology in our everyday lives has become irrevocable, and profoundly impacts the way in which our culture operates. We are dedicated to finding a poetic diction capable of expressing the concerns of the modern world in poetry. We are chiefly inspired by the work of poets such as Sarah Howe, Tony Harrison, Keston Sutherland, Jeff Hilson, among others, while by no means belittling the vital importance of writers who established the timeless ideal of poetic beauty: Pound, Yeats, poets, playwrights and novelists from every great literary movement over the last five centuries who have established the canon – a notion of which the critical establishment remains suspicious. The history of literature, its preservation in new work, is as vital to the survival of poetry as innovation and perpetual motion. There must be a balance. Just as the Romans preserved the best architectural elements of their Greek adversaries when styling their own, we must preserve the beautiful, and strive to build upon this foundation to bring poetry back into the hands of the world.

Copyright (C) The Composite Review 2016.